No member of the Board of Supervisors justified the proposed retroactive 2-cent real estate tax increase at the public hearing Wednesday on Clarke County’s proposed $38-million budget for the new fiscal year.
Supervisor John Staelin of Millwood, the board’s finance committee chairman, is leading the effort to increase the county real estate tax from 62-cents to 64-cents for each $100 of assessed valuation, in order to raise an extra $200,000 for the county general fund. But the extra money is not needed by the government and should be left with us.
Certainly the county’s budget czar Thomas Judge wants the tax hike and extra $200,000 to be taken from us and put in his hands to administer for local government and the public schools.
I question the whole new arrangement of having Mr. Judge, who is technically a school employee and School Board clerk reporting to School Superintendent Michael Murphy, also in a position to control all government-wide money matters and purchasing for the county as director of what they call Joint Administrative Services. But that’s another issue.
The main point is the tax hike being pushed for a board vote next Wednesday is totally unnecessary and should be rejected by Supervisors Michael Hobert, David Weiss, Barbara Byrd, and Bev McKay. As I reminded them at the public hearing, here’s why:
First, the proposed 2013 budget is already raising the schools amount by $1.5 million and giving back $186,014 of unspent funds for this year.
But why has the cost per student in the public schools risen more than 6 percent since the 2008-09 school year –– from $4,875 per student in FY 2008 to $5,190 per student in FY 2011 –– while the number of students has dropped 5 percent over the same period –– from 2,150 average daily membership in 2008-09 to 2,040 in 2011-12, a drop of 110 students?
Superintendent Murphy made light of the per student cost increase in his budget presentation to the School Board on Jan. 17. “But don’t we have fewer students?” he asked. “We do, but student and staff needs continue to increase; different students and different rules.”
This is not adequate and fails to explain why we’ve had a $314 per-student cost increase over the past four years –– and a decade since the maligned No Child Left Behind legislation came and went.
I’m sorry, but Dr. Murphy’s oft-repeated phrase that “These are exciting times for our children” does not justify his hand going deeper into our pockets for even more money. He’ll have to get by with the $25.8-million already in the budget.
Also, the case against the tax increase is strengthened by the fact that the county has had much additional leftover surplus cash unspent from annual county appropriations, state and federal money –– mostly excess school funds.
The carryover surpluses have been:
- $247,227 in the present fiscal year that ends June 30;
- $186,014 for FY 2011 that ended last June 30;
- $645,165 for 2009-10;
- $993,717 for 2008-09; and
- $697,296 for 2007-08.
Clarke County’s yearly certified public audit reports have shown additional end-of-year government savings that went into the county’s so-called “rainy day fund,” which had grown to a total of more than $15-million by last July.
Clarke County’s “rainy day” slush fund is at least 13 percent bigger than all counties around us and the City of Winchester, and increased by the following amounts over the past five years:
- $418,733 for FY 2011 that ended last June 30;
- $400,000 for 2009-10;
- $442,329 for 2008-09; and
- $536,770 for 2007-08.
So with hundreds of thousands of dollars of yearly unspent school funds carried over, and more hundreds of thousands of dollars of yearly general government savings held in interest-bearing liquid CDs or investment bonds deposited with the county’s bank, for a “rainy-day” fund totaling almost half the county’s total yearly spending, why is Supervisor Staelin calling for an added real estate tax hike on residents who are not in budget Director Judge’s privileged yearly $99,734 pay grade?
Clearly, the proposed tax hike is totally unnecessary, indefensible, and quite frankly in the vein of big-government spend-crazy run amok.
As we see, the county government and schools are awash with already appropriated money. And for elected representatives who say they are for leaner, less expensive, more affordable government and lower taxes, real conservatives would find the tax hike shameful.
Hopefully by next Wednesday, when they meet for their final vote on the budget, our Board of Supervisors will see the light and roundly vote against proceeding with the unwarranted and economically unhelpful 2-cent real estate tax hike.